The evolution of homo economicus

Image credit: Charlie Young

What do you see when you peek behind the curtains of neoliberal capitalism? What happens when you lift the veil off? Well, you see a mythological character. An apparition that haunts our collective consciousness. A specter that permeates our institutions and that has epistemologically imprisoned us. Homo economicus.

The term Homo economicus, or economic man, is a core principle in mainstream economic thinking. It’s a portrayal of humans as being inherently rational, greedy, and self-interested.

The latest documentary by the Upstream Podcast takes a deep dive into this topic. The podcast’s producers first got interested in the idea of Homo economicus when they started noticing a consistent barrier that many people have with the possibility of imagining a more just, solidaristic, and sustainable economic future, stems from their assumptions about human nature. Time after time, they had heard — “But, humans are naturally selfish, so any system based on trust, equity, and true democracy would never work.”

Where did the idea of Homo economicus come from? Why is it so embedded in mainstream economic thinking? And most importantly, is it true? Are we Homo economicus? Or are we the opposite — kind, compassionate, altruistic beings whose good nature has been thwarted by a mistaken view of our own humanity? Or is the truth somewhere in between? These are some of the questions being explored in this episode, “Debunking the Myth of Homo economicus.”



Bayo Akomolafe — Philosopher, author, professor, and organizer currently based in India

David Sloan Wilson — Evolutionary biologist and a Professor of Biological Sciences and Anthropology at Binghamton University in New York.

George Monbiot — Journalist and author of “Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis”

Kate Raworth — Renegade economist and author of “Doughnut Economics”

Matt Christman — Co-host of the Chapo Traphouse podcast

Peter Fleming — Professor in organization theory and author of “The Death of Homo economicus”

Tom Crompton — Co-director of the Common Cause Foundation

Vas — Former economics student (Vas declined to provide her last name)

Yuan Yang — Founder of Rethinking Economics

Music by:

Haley Heynderickx

American Football

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Upstream is a radio documentary series offering episodes that explore a wide variety of themes pertaining to our 21st century economy. Episodes range from Craft Beer to Universal Basic Income,